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Is Bagged Salad Safe to Eat?


By Mary_RD on Feb 09, 2010 12:00 PM in Tips & Updates
Edited By +Rachel Berman

Bagged salad: the best thing since sliced bread... Convenient, nutritious, flavorful - and scary?

Consumer Reports magazine published the details of their recent tests on packaged salad in their March 2010 issue.  Overall, Consumer Reports is concerned that pre-washed bagged salad is less than perfectly clean.

The Test

Consumer Reports tested a sample of 208 packaged salads from supermarkets in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.  The salads represented 16 national and local producers. 

The Good News: NO deadly bacteria was found.  (Remember E. coli O157:H7 in bagged spinach and lettuce that sickened Americans back in 2006?) 

The Bad News: Consumer Reports did find unacceptable levels of coliforms and enterococcus bacteria across all brands.  Those bacteria are common indicators of poor sanitation.

The Cause

Greens may become contaminated growing in the fields by irrigation water and runoff from grazing livestock.  Equipment and handlers in the production plant are another possible source of contamination.  Cooking usually destroys bacteria in food, but salads skip that step.

Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that salads are "triple washed", once with fresh water and twice in chlorinated baths. However, it is difficult to wash contaminants from leaves. Prevention efforts must focus on the fields and production plants.

The Risk

The question is whether sanitation risks outweigh the benefits of eating bagged salad. Trevor Suslow, PhD, Research Specialist in Postharvest Quality and Safety at UC Davis, thinks the benefits win.  He told Samantha Cassetty of the Goodhousekeeping Research Institute, "the bacteria Consumer Reports found do not necessarily indicate fecal contamination and... the numbers found do not relate well to risk of illness... or serious pathogens being present... I feel it is grossly unfair to consumers to raise a specter of fear well beyond what is supported by available science and our everyday shared experiences... there are billions and billions of servings of these items consumed every year in the U.S. alone and the predominate experience we have is of safe consumption."  

Reduce your risk

To be extra cautious when eating bagged salad at home, follow these steps:

  • Do not eat salad that is near its use-by date.  Bacteria increase with age.
  • Keep salad refrigerated.
  • Wash your hand before handling salad.
  • To prevent cross contamination, keep salad away from raw meat.
  • Instead of buying bagged salad, consider using fresh, unpackaged lettuce; remove the outer leaves and wash it thoroughly.
  • Wash salad greens with a veggie wash surfactant to thoroughly remove remaining dirt, oils and pesticide residues (although it does not kill bacteria).

If passed, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill, will provide the FDA with resources needed to make prevention the focus of food safety.


Your thoughts....

Should bagged salad be bagged?



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Comments


My Family goes through about 10 pounds for bagged salad a week.

We do it for the convenience. Maybe they should irradiate the salads to remove harmful bacteria.

 

 



Okay...I hate about these alarmist type stories (I'm a journalist myself). And here's why. They only tackle half the question.   They are talking about bagged salad as if it's different than unbagged that you wash yourself at home. If the problem is in the fields and production, as they say, then unbagged salad may be just as risky, depending on how well YOU wash it and whether your hands are clean enough. I know many people who are too lazy to even RINSE their salad. At work, I constantly see people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands first....  The question really is: are people doing a better job of washing their own salad than companies that provide pre-washed salad?

If you wash your hands religiously, scrub your salad and use high pressure and saline wash and do it really thoroughly, maybe your greens ARE cleaner than bagged salad, but for the average consumer who just gives the leaves a rinse, the bagged salad might still be a better bet. There's just no way to tell anything useful from this story without knowing what the alternative to bagged salad is like, and that's going to vary a lot from household to household. 



In my case, I won't eat it unless it's bagged, usually, on weekdays.  So it's take my risks or don't eat salad, which right now is about half of what I'm eating.  



Original Post by: jenniferger

Okay...I hate about these alarmist type stories (I'm a journalist myself). And here's why. They only tackle half the question.   They are talking about bagged salad as if it's different than unbagged that you wash yourself at home. If the problem is in the fields and production, as they say, then unbagged salad may be just as risky, depending on how well YOU wash it and whether your hands are clean enough. I know many people who are too lazy to even RINSE their salad. At work, I constantly see people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands first....  The question really is: are people doing a better job of washing their own salad than companies that provide pre-washed salad?

If you wash your hands religiously, scrub your salad and use high pressure and saline wash and do it really thoroughly, maybe your greens ARE cleaner than bagged salad, but for the average consumer who just gives the leaves a rinse, the bagged salad might still be a better bet. There's just no way to tell anything useful from this story without knowing what the alternative to bagged salad is like, and that's going to vary a lot from household to household. 


I have to agree that we are ultimately responsible for how clean the food we eat is.  However, I do think the question is how misleading advertising can be.  If you purchase non-bagged salad you are more likely to wash it than bagged salad that says pre-washed, illuding to the fact that you don't have to wash it because the company you are purchasing the salad from has already taken care of that for you.  I personally rewash the bagged salad and think it is wise to do so.  On the other hand I don't think companies should claim pre-washed if indeed the salad still needs some washing... by the way, from the article "once in fresh and twice in chlorinated water" - Sounds appetizing doesn't it... Chlorinated salad, just what I wanted.  



You are more likely to get into a car accident on the way to buy bagged salad, than you are likely to get sick from eating it.

 



Seems like this is a likely problem for all fresh lettuce and other produce.  If Dole triple washes their leaves before packaging, that's more than I do at home with fresh lettuce.  I don't think that the lettuce being bagged or not is the real issue here.



Based on the information in this article, if i re-wash my pre-washed salad 3 more times, i'm not going to get it any more free of the bacteria mentioned.  Clearly, it isn't hurting us.



I do worry about bacteria in bagged salad greens and realize that most contamination occurs in the field.  I lived in a lettuce growing town for a few years and got a much better idea of what goes into growing greens on such a massive scale.  The port-a-potties being placed out in the fields, the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

I eat bagged salad; the salad greens that I grow, wash and bag.  I know what the lettuces, mesclun, endive, arugula, etc. grew in because I put it there.  I don't spray pesticides either, and use only organic fertilizers.  My garden is netted, courtesy of neighborhood stray cats.  The worst fecal contamination is from the occasional bird flying overhead.

I wash my lettuces thoroughly and have never had a mishap.  No worries about coliform laden runoff, fecal matter being deposited in the field, etc.. 

I know everyone will think I am a nutjob, control freak, etc.. After the bagged spinach mishap, I think everyone should take a second look at the food safety standards in our country.  My stance is to use my own skills (gardening, cooking) to control my family's safety until things improve. 

 

 

 



Since we are trying to get into healthy eating habits, I just don't think it's responsible to discourage people from eating salad and raw mushrooms while at the same time you have two enormous ads for diet pizza on the page.  What that says to me is that you're advocating processed diet junkfood and discouraging real food.  Not really what I was hoping for.  I have to agree with some of the others.  We are responsible for ourselves.  We're not stupid, just overweight.



I eat organic salad greens. These are only available bags. I states right on the package to throughly was the greens before eating.  I will probably continue to eat the bag salads.



I eat bagged salad! I especially find it reducing the time I need to make my lunch to go to work! I work in a building with no cafe or any serving station so everyone around me order from fast food resturants or eat there since we are across the block from the city center. I try my best to eat healthy and I actually enjoy salad but I don't have time to make it. I work 2 jobs so I have around 2-3 hrs for myself before I sleep and I need to sleep 7 hrs or I will be killed, so bagged salad or veggies save my life. I gained a lot of wieght because I used to eat junk food instead of real food because I had to work too much to cook or make any food. I am not a fast food junkie too since I have an ulcer and w.e in them, give me a bad night :( .



I agree with some of the other posters on here. They're attacking bagged salad as if it was different than regular salad. The same problems reside in lettuce that you would buy whole heads of and clean yourself. In fact, how many of us wash our salad 3 times like Dole does when we prepare it ourself? Not me, that's for sure. So thus, buying it and preparing it ourself may even be less sanitary.

Plus, isn't it actually good for the human body to have some bacteria in it, if it's not making us sick? Sometimes I wonder if we become so anti-bacteria, our immune systems won't be exercised and won't be in as good of working order when we actually do need them...



I got sick (food posioning sick) a week ago about 2 hours after I ate a bagged salad.  All it had on it was avocado and dressing so I assume it was the lettuce.  Of course, I eat salads all the time and this was the first time in my life I had food posioning. I still plan on eating salad, I just plan on being more aware of the dates on the bags.



This article is nothing but alarmist.  People would be absolutely disgusted and appalled by the way restaraunts and bars clean their glasses, plates, silverware etc. 

Anyhow, the key to this article is that "no deadly bacteria were found."  Some bacteria is good for the body because it keeps it strong, it puts our resistance to exercise.

Mykus, I did not read your comment but realised just now I am echoing the same thing you just said ... I agree with you completely!Wink



One of the reasons why people seem to get sick all of the time from tainted food is because of the improvements to sanitary conditions in food preparation and storage.

Minor stomach bugs we'd shake off a generation ago, now are debilitating because we've lost our ability to fight them.

Crazy world.



I think some are missing the point here.  Organic salad, whether bagged or not, does not have the same issue of contamination as the huge industrial companies looking to maximize profits through more production in ever-smaller spaces.  Cross-contamination is a serious issue (anyone see Food, Inc.???)  Listen to the poster above who has real experience...they actually grow their own produce for their family because of personal observation of how lettuce is grown and processed!

I don't have the land to have a large garden but I joined an organic CSA so I ingest less chemicals and don't have to worry about the contamination.  Yes, I wash all my produce a few times, but it's just to get the organic-no-chemical dirt off :-)

This article is very good to bring about awareness...and educated consumers can weigh the benefits/risks themselves.  Thanks for the info...



I don't think you are a nut job- but wish I was as industious!



I read an article the other day about what non-food items that are allowed in our factory pre-made foods by the FDA. (rodent hairs, dirt, rodent waste, etc.)  For some reason, bacteria on lettuce isn't that much of a concern.  A healthy body with a healthy immune system will take care of the bacteria on lettuce. 



I eat bagged/clamshell prewashed greens all the time. I love that it is so quick to prepare. I admit I am lazy. I would probably eat less fresh greens if I had to wash it and cut it up myself.



More government regulation will only make things worse.  Why do you think our food is bad to begin with?!



Does anyone ever seen a veggie wash surfactant for sale in stores.  I don't ever remember seeing one.  Sounds like that's something we could use at home to clean the bacteria of the lettuce.



Whoops, I meant has anyone ever seen a veggie wash in the stores?



Absolutely, every fresh product you put in your mouth should by washed by you.  I don't eat bagged lettuce any more because, I found it went bad fast, and 9 x out of 10 after you get it home you will notice it is brown on the ends and gets slimmy fast.



Original Post by: klr0801

"... by the way, from the article "once in fresh and twice in chlorinated water" - Sounds appetizing doesn't it... Chlorinated salad, just what I wanted."

Unless you're washing your salad with bottled water, you're washing it in chlorinated water as well.  Most cities add chlorine to their water systems. 

I completely agree with Jenniferger.  The amount of "health stories" in the news everyday that completely condtradict one another has lead me do disregard almost all of them.  Remember when margarine was supposed to be better for you than butter? They've cried wolf way too many times.  Common sense will prevail in most instances. 20 - 30 years ago, people got sick from food too....you just didn't have the internet and 24 hour news channels to spread the fear like we do now.



I do wash the bagged salads but here is a tip that will improve the taste of the bagged salads - rinse the greens in diluted vinegar water to take away the bagged refrigerator taste.  This tip came from a caterer and it realy works - should help in taking away some of the bacteria, too.  I've noticed in restaurants the stale taste of their salad greens and it makes me wonder if the salad was actually rinsed.



The last thing we need is to put more stinkin' chemicals in our bodies (as in "Wash salad greens with a veggie wash surfactant" and chlorine??? yuck!). I recommend, if you must buy bagged salad (much more expensive than buying leaf lettuce by the bunch), then give it a rinse with a 50/50 mix of tap water and colloidal silver. C. silver is known to kill almost ALL bacteria, even the superbugs! And, don't listen to the nay sayers of silver...even the medical profession is starting to get on board with silver as a healing ingredient (Silverdene, bandages with silver, etc.). Even the World Health Organization uses colloidal silver in their water purification processes for developing countries! Those who have had bad experiences with C. Silver were silly enough to make their own. I recommend getting a good brand, like Sovereign Silver.



I'm kind of amazed that there is no recommendation for washing with vinegar.  Last year there was a study that came out touting the bacteria killing benefits of a vinegar wash for all vegetables.  We keep a spray bottle of 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water and spray veggies like apples, oranges, etc. then rub with a paper towel and rinse.  For greens, berries, etc. we soak them in a bowl with the solution and then rinse.  If you google "washing vegetables with vinegar" there's an NPR story that gives the details.

 



Bacteria is on everything.  Especially live food.  It is naturally occurring and is supposed to be there.  Even in your home plots, there will be bacteria.  It grows in DIRT.  If you have a organic garden you probably have more bacteria than if you had a garden with pesticides and fertilizers, but most likely you would have more healthy bacteria but bacteria non the less.  

This article upsets me because I see it as a scare tactic.  People need fresh live food, for maximum nutrition.  It has live enzymes and vitamins.  Enzymes are lost during cooking and so are some of the vitamins.  Irradiating my fresh food would cook it, and destroy what I consider the most important element of fresh food- enzymes.  More regulation on the end of the chain does not solve problems- ie. Let's cook it and kill the bacteria.  Why don't we look into farming practices if there is indeed a problem, not just slap a bandaid on it and sell it to the public.  

We are destroying our land with unsustainable farming practices, and this is fact completely overlooked.  

 



Comment Removed

Actually, what I would like to see addressed is the nutrients _removed_ by washing these greens in chlorine.  I heard, and it makes sense, that this washes away many of the nutrients in the greens, therefore removing much of the reason for buying them!  I wash my greens, bagged or not.



I agree, just like H1N1 alarmists, where is the epidemic?  This was created by some obscure model, not real evidence and doesn't this happen every year some new flu shot scare. How many got sick or died from the vaccine vice the disease.  Heck more people die of car accidents and we actually have real data, should we go crazy and outlaw cars?  Our bodies are wonderful, adaptable chemical machines and can only deal with bacterial and virus if they are exposed to some.  So our bodies need exposure to some degree of these to stay healthy.  ALARMISTS BE DAMNED.

 



People should not assume that organic is healthier or cleaner. There have been several recalls of organic foods. Also, the issue here is bacteria, which has nothing to do with pesticides or chemicals.



Original Post by: babalol

Absolutely, every fresh product you put in your mouth should by washed by you.  I don't eat bagged lettuce any more because, I found it went bad fast, and 9 x out of 10 after you get it home you will notice it is brown on the ends and gets slimmy fast.


Please - tell me where you shop - so I can be sure I don't go there !!

 



Interesting; my husband has always insisted that I wash the bag salads before serving.  In the future, I will use the water and vinegar solution suggested by mbearss.



The article ends up being, as Jenniferger put it, somewhat alarmist based on only tackling half the issue.  I applaud Blaisenfire for taking matters into her/his own hands.  I am moving toward changing a small unheated "sun" room attached to my house into a temporate place to grown my own greens.  There's a book out there called "Four Season.... (something)" about growing your own greens and veggies all year round.  That's my goal.  Right now, the main things that require repeated visits to the grocery store for me/my family are soymilk and greens.  I'm looking to reduce that list to just soymilk.  We would all benefit from buying/growing closer to home to the extent that it is feasible for us!



I personally would like to know how the bagged salad compares with contaminates found on other leafy greens found in the produce section. 

I used bagged salads frequently, I just wash them the same as I would any greens, better safe than sorry. 



Original Post by: tulip52

People should not assume that organic is healthier or cleaner. There have been several recalls of organic foods. Also, the issue here is bacteria, which has nothing to do with pesticides or chemicals.


Really?  I would like you to refresh my memory what organic food was recalled?The during spinach scare in 06 organic was never recalled.  How do I know?  Because I only eat organic at home.  Even though it was under a distributor (EarthBound Farms) that sells organic food, none of the organic spinach was contaminated.  Different processes were used to grow and wash that spinach.  And there are no chlorine baths either.  

Organic farming practices are a much higher standard that conventional.  That is why the cost is more.



I agree with this comment ....this article is alarmist.  These companies in all likelihood do a much better job of washing the produce going into bagged salads than do most people in their own kitchens.

If they want to get the true story, they need to take a comparitive number of home kitchens from a cross section of our society and test their cleaning methods before jumping all over these produce producers. 

I have used bagged salads for years, as well as un-bagged salad products, and plan to continue to use both.  People need to learn to be responsible for their own health and well being. If you don't trust a company or unsure...re-wash it. We are so quick to try and make other people responsible for our lives, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. Act like grown ups people, not little children who need to be held by the hand every step of every day.



Comment Removed

Okay, I get this... that's all good.  But, if the lettuce in the bags that goes through a fresh water bath and TWO chlorinated baths and STILL isn't clean enough... how exactly are we supposed to get fresh lettuce with the same contaminants on it any cleaner just by scrubbing which doesn't remove bacteria? 

Not trying to challenge, just curious.  If bagged lettuce isn't safe, why is fresh lettuce?  It all comes from the same place... ??



I never buy bagged salad anymore.  The smell of the salad is nasty compared to fresh (probably preservative sprays to keep it fresher longer).  The only bagged item I get is spinach which I rinse thoroughly.  But I agree with whitneytyong... sounds like we get that bacteria no matter what way we purchase the lettuce.



this article is lame.

eat your greens.



Don´t be lazy. Wash the salad!  Its so obvious!  I don´t know what people's cleanliness and hygene standards are if they don´t a) wash their hands before preparing food and b) wash the food they're going to eat. Especially if it's raw! No machine or company is going to be as concerned as you about the food you eat.  Now as for washing your hands after going to the bathroom... it should be so ingrained as to not even bear thinking.  Reflex action.



Original Post by: jenniferger

Okay...I hate about these alarmist type stories (I'm a journalist myself). And here's why. They only tackle half the question.   They are talking about bagged salad as if it's different than unbagged that you wash yourself at home. If the problem is in the fields and production, as they say, then unbagged salad may be just as risky, depending on how well YOU wash it and whether your hands are clean enough. I know many people who are too lazy to even RINSE their salad. At work, I constantly see people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands first....  The question really is: are people doing a better job of washing their own salad than companies that provide pre-washed salad?

If you wash your hands religiously, scrub your salad and use high pressure and saline wash and do it really thoroughly, maybe your greens ARE cleaner than bagged salad, but for the average consumer who just gives the leaves a rinse, the bagged salad might still be a better bet. There's just no way to tell anything useful from this story without knowing what the alternative to bagged salad is like, and that's going to vary a lot from household to household. 


I totally agree with you.  Lettuce grows in nature.  Nature is not sterile, nor would be want it to be.  If the bagged salad makers are washing salad leaves THREE times, of which TWO are in CHLORINATED washes, and there is still "dirt" on those leaves... then how clean do you imagine lettuce can possibly be?  And who cares, anyway?

The Purell effect has gone too far.  We live in the world, people.  There are germs here.  Rejoice!



I recall the bagged spinach contamination incident of 2006 very well. Why? because I ended up feeding my then immune compromised son 2 huge bowls of organic spinach salad with supper one night, only to read on yahoo 5 hours later that there was a massive recall of bagged lettuces and spinach, the brand I used was on that recall. needless to say I was rather freaked out. However, I have eaten bagged salads before and after that incident , but I don't buy them near as often as I used to. It seems that almost every year following that E.Coli scare that there was at least one recall of bag greens a year. 

 Biggest thing to keep in mind..WASH your raw produce well! I have opened those triple washed salads time and time again and found clumps of dirt in them, I have always washed  "pre-washed" produce well, because I do not trust equipment to do that job for me. It makes me cringe that they always advertise the fact that they do not need rinsing. Ick. Too many people actually don't rinse them at all, my MIL inclusive. Wonder how many restaurants just dump them into a bowl without cleaning them first?



I happen to like bacteria. Finally I know where I can get a bag of the stuff.

You talk about having nothing to write about. - I mean, obviously we've run out of news these days. If it's not the endless droaning on about healthcare, the economy, Palin and the occasional disaster, then its bags of salad. 57 up to the minute news channels all fighting for the same meatless scaps.  No wonder why I don't care. Sames grand pa and grand ma made it into thwir 80's eating filth, smoking cigars, eating bacon and drinking whiskey, and all without lipitor, haelthcare and news flashes like this cr@p.

OK... I'm done... Time to get back to my bacon sandwich, and cigars and whiskey

 



For the record, in Canada it was Presidents Choice Organic baby spinach that was included in the 2006 recall. this was the spinach I had purchased. it may start out organic, but who knows how companies are really handling it after it is harvested.



Original Post by: mama2ejrj

For the record, in Canada it was Presidents Choice Organic baby spinach that was included in the 2006 recall. this was the spinach I had purchased. it may start out organic, but who knows how companies are really handling it after it is harvested.


For the record, much of the organic stuff is a fraud. They already did a study as to the amount produced vs. the amount sold retail and it like 1:4. Its total BS. These middle men would sell their daughter for a nickel. Unless you go to the farm and watch them grow, harvest and sell it then don't believe it. I participate in a small co-op. Try doing this youself. You don't get all the produce you want this way but at least its something.



Original Post by: lastchancesue

You are more likely to get into a car accident on the way to buy bagged salad, than you are likely to get sick from eating it.

 


You're more likely to get in a car accident than pretty much anything.



Original Post by: janicej2

Interesting; my husband has always insisted that I wash the bag salads before serving.  In the future, I will use the water and vinegar solution suggested by mbearss.


perhaps you could teach him to wash them himself Smile



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